Adelaide researchers have found that the size of a population’s nursing workforce at the time of someone’s birth is a major influence on their life expectancy.
Second only to how wealthy a population is, the size of a nursing workforce appears to have a greater influence on life expectancy than other factors such as obesity and the number of people living in cities compared to rural areas.
Quantifying the contribution
On average, life expectancy has increased worldwide over the last 200 years. Nurses account for nearly 50 per cent of the global health workforce, and they play a critical role in contributing to the health of a population.
“Nurses work really hard and contribute greatly to population health, but previous studies have not been able to quantify how important the nursing workforce is,” said Dr Wenpeng You, nursing researcher at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Adelaide Medical School.
From cradle to grave
Using data from the United Nations for 215 different populations around the world, the researchers looked at how many nurses a country has and how long people tend to live there.
“Nurses look after the population at every level, from pregnant women to adults and athletes. In a lot of areas, the only health professionals you see are nurses. So, it’s not surprising to see how important they are in the data,” said Dr You.
The importance of the nursing workforce on life expectancy was clear, even when taking into account other factors like how rich the country is, how many people live in cities, and how many people are overweight.
“There is clearly this great contribution from the nursing workforce on life expectancy at birth, that cannot be explained by money, obesity or by urbanisation.”